On January 22 on Capitol Hill, Right on Crime Senior Policy Analyst Vikrant P. Reddy addressed #Cut50, a new prison reform group, on the subject of conservative criminal justice reform. The other panelists at the event were former House Speaker and Right on Crime signatory Newt Gingrich, Senator Cory Booker, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and Cut 50 founder Van Jones. The event was held in a room in the Senate Russell Building and drew a standing-room-only crowd of Hill staffers and other advocates.
Vikrant discussed several ideas at the panel, including performance-incentive funding for corrections facilities and programs, drug and mental health diversion courts, increased use of risk assessments, and reversing the tide of overcriminalization. He provided specific examples of how legislation to further these goals had passed in conservative states throughout the country such as Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas. He also explained why the ideas appeal to various wings of the conservative movement, from social conservatives to fiscal conservatives to libertarians.
Vikrant emphasized that prison reform efforts would likely be fruitless unless led by conservatives because conservatives were the ones who demonstrated a seriousness about public safety concerns in the 1960s and 70s when many liberals seemed preoccupied with rehabilitative fads that were not based in data and evidence. He specifically encouraged the enthusiastic attendees not to lose sight of the importance of public safety outcomes when advocating for prison reform. He even noted that while the work of #Cut50—the host organization—was laudable, its name was slightly problematic because it refers the goal of cutting the U.S. prison population by 50%, but improving crime rates in troubled neighborhoods are a far better measurement of success than simply the number of people released from prison.
The other members of the briefing panel were deeply engaged in the issue, but none so much as former Speaker Newt Gingrich who took several pages of notes throughout the entire event and delivered remarks heaping praise upon Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship for bringing the issue to the forefront of conservative politics.
#Cut50 and Speaker Gingrich will hold a follow up briefing on March 26th of this year.